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Living the Yoga Life: True Masters (And Not)

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There are many ideas about what makes someone a liberated master. Some think a man was a master just because he did not wear clothes, or only a kaupin. All kinds of eccentricities are listed as the traits of avadhutas, but a real avadhuta embodies a single trait: total desirelessness. That is because desire carries a great deal of baggage along with it, not the least being the ego and an entrenched sense of duality. If you have a text of the Bhagavad Gita in your computer, do a search for the words “desire,” “desires,” and “desireless.” You will be amazed at the number of times they occur. Desire and its adjuncts are the major subject of the Gita.

“Knowledge is covered by this, the constant enemy of the wise, having the form of desire which is like insatiable fire. The senses, mind, and intellect are said to be its abode. With these it deludes the embodied one by veiling his innate wisdom. Therefore, controlling the senses at the outset, kill this evil being, which destroys ordinary knowledge and supreme knowledge” (Bhagavad Gita 3:39-41).

That is how to become a master.

***

Many liberated beings have said that everything was their guru, meaning that they saw the One in all things manifesting as the universe which embodied the wisdom of Spirit. The ability to learn from life itself is necessary as we ascend in levels of consciousness. Further, the Self-realized understand that God is the only guru, teaching us by means of His creation. This is depicted in Swami Sivananda’s thrilling poem, Only God I Saw:

When I surveyed from Ananda Kutir, Rishikesh,
By the side of the Tehri Hills, only God I saw.
In the Ganges and the Kailas peak,
In the famous Chakra Tirtha of Naimisar also, only God I saw.

***

In the Dedhichi Kand of Misrik,
In the sacred Triveni of Prayag Raj too, only God I saw.
In the maya Kund of Rishikesh and
In the springs of Badri, Yamunotri and Gauri-Kund to boot, only God I saw.

***

In tribulation and in grief, in joy and in glee,
In sickness and in sorrow, only God I saw.
In birds and dogs, in stones and trees,
In flowers and fruits, in the sun, moon and stars, only God I saw.

***

In prayer and fasting, in praise and meditation,
In Japa and Asana, in Tratak and concentration, only God I saw.
In Pranayama and Nauli, in Bhasti and Neti,
In Dhouti and Vajroli, in Bhastrika and Kundalini, only God I saw.

***

In Brahmakara Vritti and Vedantic Nididhyasana,
In Atmic Vichara and Atmic Chintana, only God I saw.
In Kirtan and Nama Smaran, in Sravana and Vandana,
In Archana and Padasevana, in Dasya and Atmanivedana, only God I saw.

***

Like camphor I was melting in His fire of knowledge,
Amidst the flames outflashing, only God I saw.
My Prana entered the Brahmarandhra at the Moordha,
Then I looked with God’s eyes, only God I saw.

***

I passed away into nothingness, I vanished,
And lo, I was the all-living, only God I saw.
I enjoyed the Divine Aisvarya, all God’s Vibhutis,
I had Visvaroopa Darshan, the Cosmic Consciousness, only God I saw.

***

Glory, glory unto the Lord, hail! hail! hail! O sweet Ram.
Let me sing once more Thy Name–Ram Ram Ram, Om, Om, Om, only God I saw.

***

Evil does not exist as an entity but only as a distortion of the good. Just as any object touched by King Midas turned into gold, if an evil person is brought into intimate contact with the good he can change and resume his earlier character as good if he so wills. The beneficial effect of satsang (spiritual association) demonstrates this. This is why throughout history it has been seen that when evil people encounter great holy ones they may became drastically changed and begin living a good, even a holy, life.

In our own time, powerful figures in organized crime in India were transformed by a single meeting with perfected yogis. Oftentimes a single glimpse was sufficient to change them for the rest of their life. This occurred throughout the life of Swami Sivananda and in that of others I met in India.
***
A friend of mine heard Yogananda speak in the 1920s. He told me: “When Yogananda spoke on the Bhagavad Gita you knew that he understood the Gita as no other person did.” Yogananda could do the same with music. My friend said: “When Yogananda played the vina you could feel your own consciousness opening out as though vast cubes of space were opening in your own mind. This was his power.”

I would like to tell you a story that bears this out.

One Sunday day morning I was sitting with my friend Jean Page, in the SRF Cafe at the Hollywood center. I did not know it, but it was Jean’s birthday. For a few moments she closed her eyes and got very still. As she opened her eyes, the telephone rang in the office of Sister Meera who was in charge of the center and the cafe. Shortly Sister Meera came out of the office and over to our table. “Jean, how would you like a copy of the first edition of Autobiography of a Yogi?” she asked. “I would!” exclaimed Jean. “There is a woman on the phone who has one she will sell. Shall I get you her address?” As Sister Meera went back to the telephone, Jean told me: “Just now I closed my eyes and said: ‘Master, what are you going to give me for my birthday?’ And the phone rang immediately!”

It was not long before we were in Jean’s car heading for our goal. When the woman came out with the book, she said: “I would like to tell you about how I got this book. I was raised in the Catholic Church and went faithfully to Mass, but never found any peace of heart. Later I went to various churches and spiritual groups, but still I had no peace. I was always anxious and discontent inside. Then one Sunday my husband and I went to Yogananda’s church. When we came in the door, he was playing the organ; and the moment the sound entered my ears it was like my soul gave a great sigh of relief and for the first time in my life I had peace and happiness. Later on I bought this book and have had it all these years. I will never forget Yogananda and how he helped me find peace.”

Such was the effect Yogananda had on countless thousands of souls. I met people whose lives he had literally saved, and many whose souls were awakened in his presence. This is the way a liberated master lives in this world. His every word and deed are expressions of his divine consciousness. When we are with such a one we are with God.

***

Between 1924 and 1935 Yogananda travelled throughout the United States and spoke in nearly all major cities, leaving behind his wisdom vibrating in the ether to be accessed by those yogis that have sufficiently purified and developed their intelligence (buddhi).

***

When the finite jiva unites with the infinite Paramatman, the ego dissolves. In the consciousness of the One, selfishness is totally impossible. Once when Yogananda came out into the street from visiting Sri Yukteswar he saw a man looking at his motorcycle. “Do you like it?” asked Yogananda. “Yes!” replied the man. “Then it is yours,” said Yogananda.

***

The fully liberated are free on all levels, and that includes freedom from the law of death. When they will it to be so, then alone does their body fall away in seeming death. Actually, they walk out of the body as easily as we remove our clothing. For example, Swami Sivananda asked to see an astrological almanac and studied it for a long while. Then he put his finger by a date and commented that no advanced yogi would be able to resist taking advantage of that day. When his close disciples (some of whom I knew) looked at the book after his laying it aside, they saw he was referring to July 14, 1963. On that day he left his body.

***

Yogananda left his body at will after having warned his disciples for some months. To one disciple he said on the day of his departure: “In a few hours I will be gone.” Yogananda wrote about others who left the body at will in his autobiography. Such great ones do not really die, they live forever. Great saviors take up and put down bodies as easily as you and I pick up a book and put it down. They are really never born nor do they die. In one of his recorded talks Yogananda said: “Yogananda was never born, nor will he ever die.”

***

One thing I have seen in my enounters with saints is their clear-sightedness. The image of the innocent and childlike saint that never sees the negativity in anyone is a wish-fantasy of the corrupt and hypocritical. No one becomes a saint without dealing with his own mind, which includes learning all the tricks of the deluded ego. Having seen it in themselves they can see it in others. Certainly I never met a saint that was cunning, calculating or negatively shrewd, but their eyes were wide open and they saw everything about those who came to them.

***

We should be intent on what a thing actually is, not how it is packaged or presented. We must perceive with the eye of intuition what is the value and true nature of a thing or person. I have seen glitter gurus in India who had a great following because they “looked like a sage” and had lots of rich and powerful disciples.

On the other hand, one of the most remarkable yogis I knew was a small, unassuming and rather comic-looking man who walked unsteadily because he was born with deformed feet and had deformed hands, as well. As a consequence he had less than a dozen disciples, in contrast to the hundreds and thousands that flocked to the popular teachers. Yet my dear friend possessed all the yoga powers (which he rarely used), daily entered into profound samadhi, and was very beloved to some of India’s greatest (and genuine) saints. He lived in a tiny room, had two changes of clothes, meditated all night rather than slept, and tirelessly worked for the free education of the poor villagers of India. Yet who wanted to hear what he had to say? If he could have increased his height, corrected his hands and feet, grown luxuriant hair on his head and face and developed shiny, glowing eyes, “walked like an elephant” and gave polished but empty talks, he would have had a large following. (In India the people know more about spirituality than those in the West, but they do not have much more sense).

***

As long as he was robust in health, had a resonant voice, and gave lectures, my beloved Swami Sivananda drew big crowds to his ashram. But when I knew him he was failing in health and gave no talks at all, but in the satsangs asked riddles, told jokes and in general had great fun. How we loved it–and him! He was giving away divine awakening with both hands as a god walking among us. But most people said he had gone senile, and in all that huge ashram we only had about twenty people at the morning satsang and forty in the evening satsang. How blessed we were. Those times with him are the most precious of my life. Yes, we laughed and enjoyed ourselves, but in each satsang there were moments of profound spiritual awareness. It often seemed to me that we could not be on earth. Other times I felt that time had reversed and we were sitting with one of the primal sages of India, whose very sight purified the heart. And yet the sophisticated and “serious sadhakas” stayed away. They had no time to waste with such undignified and superficial goings-on. What they missed! But we did not, for which I will be forever grateful.

***

One of the greatest yogis I met was a woman wandering around rural Bengal pretending to be insane. Everyone was laughing at her, but she let me know her real character and blessed me greatly.

***

A friend of mine, part of the UN Mission to India, once asked a knowledgeable Indian man who was the greatest saint in Benares. He smiled and said: “The greatest saint in Benares is a dirty ‘beggar’ that sits all day opposite the main post office and seems to be crazy. But if you go there, don’t go near him with the intention of speaking to him or getting his blessing. For if you do, he will shout at you and run away!”

***

Those of us who admire and love Paramhansa Yogananda like to read books about him, especially the memories of his close disciples. Those accounts give us an insight into how really close–spiritually speaking–to the Master the authors really were. Some accounts leave us inspired, feeling that we have somehow momentarily been with the Master. Others, though, feel like an encylopaedia article, not really living or even personal. Once I read a long account of a disciple’s memories of Yogananda and literally felt like I was reading fiction. It was not that I thought the author was lying, but that somehow there was no reality, no life, behind the words.

This saddened but did not puzzle me, because nineteen years of frequent contact with Anandamayi Ma had shown me that there were people who traveled with her constantly that were never affected by her company in any way. One devotee who had known Ma from the first time she came to Benares told me: “I assumed that everyone around Ma had to be a great soul, especially those that lived and traveled with her. But one day I told this to Ma, and she pointed to her hand and said: ‘Baba, even flies sit on this body.’ Then I understood.” And so did I. Once a devotee relayed to me something about someone who had stayed around Ma’s body for decades. All I could say was: “It’s a pity he never met Ma.”

***

Being enamored of the body and its possibilities for enjoyment, even those who claim to be interested in spiritual life always want a yogi to be diseaseless and ageless.

How well do I remember meeting a famous yogi at an airport when he landed in America for his second visit. A large number of admirers were there, and as we were all walking along after him I heard a flurry of chagrined whispers about how the last time his hair had been totally black, but now he had so much gray in his beard. Not a few were quite disturbed by this, and I heard about it later on, too.

***

One time when Swami Vivekananda visited London he found that his most fervent and devoted “disciples” had actually fled the city so as be sure they would not meet him. The reason? They had learned that he had been seriously ill some months before. Declaring that a master could never become sick, that sickness was sign of a mental flaw, they renounced and denounced him bitterly.

His teacher, Sri Ramakrishna, had been very popular and respected in Calcutta, but when he got throat cancer the “devoted” disappeared–some because they believed a master could not get such a disease, and others because they were afraid they might be asked to help with his medical expenses! He himself said that the purpose of the disease was to separate the wheat from the chaff–and there was a lot of chaff.

***

Many disdained Paramhansa Yogananda because of his illness and handicap in walking at the end of his life. (On occasion he swept the illness away and did what he needed to do and then brought it back. That is real mastery.) One of his disciples told me: “There were people who said that Master could not be a master because he was too fat. Others said he could not be a master because he sweat too much.” Those people really had earthbound consciousness!

People I knew said that Swami Sivananda could not be a master since he “died” of diabetes, even though it is known that he chose the day and hour of his departure from the body.

***

Regarding a liberated person and suffering, the Bhagavad Gita says: “Having attained this [enlightenment], he regards no other gain better than that, and established therein he is not moved by heaviest sorrow” (6:22). No suffering can overshadow or cloud the yogi’s inner vision, no matter how terrible or prolonged it may be. Two events come to mind that illustrate this.

Sri Ramakrishna was in the final stages of throat cancer. Its ravages were terrible. One day he began pathetically describing the horrible pain to a disciple. After listening a while, the disciple interrupted him, vehemently saying: “No matter what you say, I see you as an ocean of bliss!” Sri Ramakrishna smiled, turned to a disciple standing nearby, and said: “This rascal has found me out!” And that was the end of the subject.

Toward the end of his earthly life, Paramhansa Yogananda had severe trouble with his legs, at times being unable to walk. Sometimes when the pains were so bad that he could not sleep, close disciples would sit with him in his bedroom. Often he asked them to play recordings of Indian devotional music to take his mind to higher levels. Once, though, he fell asleep as his first American disciple, Dr. M. W. Lewis, and his wife kept sad vigil in his room. After some time, Yogananda began to softly moan, and then his groans became increasingly louder and more expressive of the awful pain. Both devoted disciples began to weep in sympathy for his sufferings. Instantly Yogananda stopped groaning and began laughing. Then they understood: the great Master was always immersed in divine bliss, however much the body might suffer.

***

The wise aspirant never listens to the glorification and praise (and promotion) of a supposed guru, but looks very carefully at his disciples. There the whole story is told.

***

I have seen people in both East and West faking samadhi–and very badly, too. Of course I had the advantage of having seen the real thing. At one time I was living in a simple Indian ashram literally in the middle of nowhere. Every day I saw a yogi in samadhi and got to know both its appearance and feel. The supreme experience was seeing the great master Swami Sivananda in samadhi. It was a transcendent experience that I cannot put into words, but I knew I was seeing divinity. I also saw Anandamayi Ma a few times in samadhi, and it was indescribable. No one can begin to imitate the real thing, for it also conveys to the observer a definite spiritual experience.

***

For some reason in the West talk passes itself off as reality, especially in religion and even more so in yoga. But we need solid experience, not the flimsy and foolish nonsense that many people claim for their “enlightenment experience.” I have heard astonishingly obvious falsehoods passed off by supposedly enlightened people. Some of them were tricksters and confidence men, others were dupes of phony gurus, and some were genuinely mentally ill. I have witnessed the entire range of deception over the decades. Their antics in attempting to appear enlightened and in sahaja samadhi are often very funny as well as tragic.

***

One of the biggies of India once came to a conference (Samyam Sapta) sponsored by the Anandamayi Sangha. Of course he did not come for the whole thing, he just whizzed in and whizzed out with a large amount of devotees in attendance. He gave a talk that was thoroughly hilarious because it was so silly and exaggerated. I was delighted at every moment and wished I could laugh outright. After his talk he remained about an hour as one of the genuine mahatmas gave a talk. I was watching him throughout with great interest, especially his big gold cufflinks that were attached to his kurta (shirt) that had no cuffs, just holes for the cufflinks to be put in. But the most telling thing was his blasé expression as he looked up and around, and the way he had taken off his sunglasses and was idly swinging them back and forth like a worldly sophisticate indeed.

As I watched the sunglasses rotate I thought: “That gesture tells the whole story. What a fake!” And then I thought: “What am I doing? I could be looking at Ma [Anandamayi] who is just a few feet from him!” So I looked over at Ma… and saw her leaning forward and intently watching his sunglasses display with a speculative expression on her face that indicated she, too, considered that it told the whole story. Jai Ma! (You might be interested to know that this man’s carryings-on and posturings failed utterly in America. So there is some hope for us.)

***

Often in India those who live in an utterly psychotic and chaotic manner are thought to be great yogis and siddhas. Furthermore, the reasons given for considering them holy are philosophically obscure and often simply foolish. I would like to give you an example. Someone once wrote about a local mahatma in India: “A confluence of feelings in his eternal heart is the mark of the ever free consciousness of the mahatma, wherever may be his place and time in this phenomenal world. The life of S. M. depicts the very essence of vairagya–complete resignation and detachment. He rests in a natural spiritual state of Turiya. That is the superconscious soul-perception in which all identification with one’s physical and mental person is lost.” That sounds grand, does it not? A tremendous amount of similar blather follows. Then we get a description of the mahatma. Consider this:

S. M. lived on a veranda surrounded by burlap curtains. He gave darshan sitting on a bed-sized billiard table. Its legs had been cut off to convert it into a swing that was suspended from the ceiling by iron chains. It moved at a slight push.

S. M. was wearing about twelve shirts, one on top of the other, and nothing else. As he sat there he ate nearly all the offerings people brought. Rather than let them have any as prasad (the usual custom) he only let two sadhus that lived with him and cows and dogs eat the rest.

S. M. had been giving darshan on that billiard-swing for twelve years. He had never moved away from there even for toilet or bath. The stools he passed right there used to be dry and without any smell. They were hard and if broken looked like ash. The explanation given (who would want any?) was that his internal yogic fire must have burned up all impurities that normally come to the physical body. That condition of his defecation was the sole proof given of his having extraordinary yoga powers. When he wished to communicate with others he spoke loudly in garbled Hindi that every one could hear but not understand. The words had no meaning; made no sense.

On occasion he unexpectedly slapped, struck and kicked people who approached him with devotion. The right response was for them to massage his hand or foot lest they had hurt him by being so hard to strike. After all, a blow from a saint is considered a very special blessing. Everyone was in awe of him and considered him to be one of the rarest among human beings. (I am not being sarcastic.) Some devotees tried to clean him up by giving him a bath, but immediately after his bath, S. M. would rub mud and sand on his body.

If this is not psychosis, nothing is.

***

A friend of mine was once asked to help a phony American “Mataji” to her car. She was weaving all over the place, supposedly in exalted consciousness and unaware of this material world as he tried to guide her toward the street. At one point she announced in a very sharp manner: “Watch the curb, boy!” My friend stepped back and said: “I think you can manage on your own now.” And you know what? She did!

***

One famous “shaktipat” guru in America kept saying to me: “I have no idea where this shakti is coming from,” and asking my opinion about its origin. Since my opinion was just that he was deluded and in danger by following a deluded guru, I avoided giving an answer. When the public crash came a few years later it was colossal and permanent.

***

If we read the Gita each day and carefully consider the descriptions given there of those who have attained true realization, we will not go wrong in our evaluation of supposed yogis, nor we will ourselves wander off into some exotic byway that in the final analysis is mental illness.

Next in Living the Yoga Life: Maya

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About to Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga

Living the Yoga Life–Perspectives on Yoga: Introduction

    1. Living the Yoga Life: Climbing the Ladder of Consciousness
    2. Living the Yoga Life: Sanatana Dharma, Sanatana Yoga
    3. Living the Yoga Life: The Atman/Self
    4. Living the Yoga Life: Bhakti and Jnana
    5. Living the Yoga Life: Brahman
    6. Living the Yoga Life: Ishwara
    7. Living the Yoga Life: Breath
    8. Living the Yoga Life: India and Sanatana Dharma
    9. Living the Yoga Life: The Importance of Independence
    10. Living the Yoga Life: The Intelligent Path
    11. Living the Yoga Life: The Internal Life
    12. Living the Yoga Life: Japa and Sound (Shabda)
    13. Living the Yoga Life: Japa with the Breath
    14. Living the Yoga Life: Jnana
    15. Living the Yoga Life: The Jnani
    16. Living the Yoga Life: Karma and Karma Yoga
    17. Living the Yoga Life: Kundalini
    18. Living the Yoga Life: Liberation
    19. Living the Yoga Life: It Is All Up To Us
    20. Living the Yoga Life: Madness, Divine and Worldly
    21. Living the Yoga Life: Manas (Mind) and Buddhi (Intelligence/Intellect)
    22. Living the Yoga Life: Buddhi Yoga
    23. Living the Yoga Life: True Masters (And Not)
    24. Living the Yoga Life: Maya
    25. Living the Yoga Life: Meditation
    26. Living the Yoga Life: Prana
    27. Living the Yoga Life: Raja Yoga
    28. Living the Yoga Life: Reincarnation
    29. Living the Yoga Life: Religion
    30. Living the Yoga Life: Samadhi
    31. Living the Yoga Life: Sadhana
    32. Living the Yoga Life: Dedication to Spiritual Life
    33. Living the Yoga Life: Self-realization
    34. Living the Yoga Life: Shivashakti
    35. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Experience
    36. Living the Yoga Life: The Spiritual Teacher
    37. Living the Yoga Life: Subtle Anatomy
    38. Living the Yoga Life: The World
    39. Living the Yoga Life: Worship
    40. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga, the Body and the World
    41. Living the Yoga Life: Dharma and Adharma
    42. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga–The Supreme Dharma
    43. Living the Yoga Life: Yoga Nidra
    44. Living the Yoga Life: The Yogi
    45. Living the Yoga Life: Some Advice to Yogis
    46. Living the Yoga Life: Qualities of a Yogi
    47. Living the Yoga Life: This and That
    48. Living the Yoga Life: Touch Not
    49. Living the Yoga Life: The Gita Speaks To The Yogi
    50. Living the Yoga Life: How It Is Done
    51. Living the Yoga Life: Use your mind
    52. Living the Yoga Life: Some things it is wise to avoid
    53. Living the Yoga Life: Things you should definitely do and have in your life
    54. Living the Yoga Life: Spiritual Reading
    55. Living the Yoga Life: Gorakhnath Speaks To The Yogi
    56. Living the Yoga Life: And A Final Word From Me
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